Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Organized Recess

Check out this recent NYTimes article on recess, "Forget Goofing Around: Recess Has a New Boss."

An Elementary School in Newark is paying a "recess coach" $14/hour to organize recess games for students.

"Broadway Elementary brought in Ms. Parker in January out of exasperation with students who, left to their own devices, used to run into one another, squabble over balls and jump-ropes or monopolize the blacktop while exiling their classmates to the sidelines. Since she started, disciplinary referrals at recess have dropped by three-quarters, to an average of three a week. And injuries are no longer a daily occurrence."

When I read this I groaned. Of course, students will get into squabbles during recess and have to work out their issues with other students. That's what recess is all about. That's what they are supposed to do. If another student gets hurt, then a teacher or adult can help them work it out.

Elementary school kids need a break during the day to run around, get out of the classroom, be a kid, and relax. They need the freedom to do whatever they want during those few minutes of their highly structured school day.

There are so many benefits to recess. In case you need research, check out this article from the journal Pediatrics, "School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior."

When my boys were in elementary school, the principal sent out a request for parent volunteers to help run organized recess activities. I never volunteered for this because I was against it. And guess what, my boys did NOT like or participate in the organized games.

There's nothing wrong with organized games, but in elementary school, isn't that what PE is all about? When I watched the audio slide show in this article, I agreed with everything Ms. Parker said about children and play, but I felt her message related to PE class, not to recess.

As the NYTimes article says, "Structured recess...simply transplants the rules of the classroom to the playground. 'You still have to pay still have to follow rules. You don’t have that time for your brain to relax."

We all need a break. Let's not take it away from our youngest, most vulnerable children who need it the most!


  1. the "fun nazis" are here to teach your kids to high step during "organized recess." sounds like a branch of the cosa nostra...

  2. Let them just run around and play...
    And why no "big toy" at middle school? I think they would love it!

  3. Our children's lives are so programmed and scheduled that they don't have time to learn and discover on their own which is vital for future development and learning. Young children learn though play, by repetitive actions, by experimenting and learning from their mistakes. When allowed to play in nature, they learn about the natural world around them and how it works. They learn from their own mistakes. Today, children are not allowed to play freely outside. Yes, children will get hurt, but as preschool teachers, we've never heard of a child being so severely injured that life was lost through outside play. If children are over protected and not encouraged to experiment as young children they will not understand the potential consequences of their actions when they are older. Through play they learn to predict the outcome. As young teens, if they have not had this experience the consequences can be devastating.

  4. If nothing else, having a chance to run around and let of steam in an unstructured environment must help students to be able to focus in the classroom. And learning to deal with problems that may come up, on their own is surely a great way to be prepared for life to come. We've got to stop over structuring everything our kids do - sometimes it's OK to relax, play and sometimes make mistakes - that's a great way to learn. Not everything has an end result, not everything has to be "a success" - some things just "are".

  5. I'm a noon supervisor at an East Bay elementary school.

    The vast majority of the kids I watch on the playground have no problems coming up with their own things to do on the playground. Some kids play pretend, some kids play games, some stick to the play equipment, and others who just run, read, draw or chat with friends.

    I spend most of my time at work making sure the kids stay safe and mediating disputes, but occasionally I'll bring out bubbles, or a frisbee to try to draw out the wallflowers. The kids LOVE bubbles. Everytime I bring them, I get swarmed.

  6. I just published an article describing why I think that Elkind’s article is a betrayal of the “free play” movement that he helped start. Check it out:

    The Neville Chamberlain of Free Play

  7. Unstructured recess is not for everyone. While I agree completely wtih the benefits of unstructured play and time, it is also true that a significant portion of children have difficulty wtih unstructured time. Children with special needs -- including kids with ADHD, autism, Asperger's and other challenges - often have impaired executive function: that part of the brain involved in impulse control, planning, organization, and execution. The unstructured playground can be a very difficult place for some of these kids. Children with special needs (and children who don't!) can also have difficulty understanding the unstated or implicit rules and dynamics in operation on the playground. Children with such challenges can have a very difficult time navigating the politics of the playground. When such challenges are combined with difficulties understanding the pragmatics of language, or with any kind of communication impairment leading to difficulty effectively integrating themselves with peers, you can end up with isolated, frustrated, angry and even clinically depressed kids who are left completely on the outside of the major social arena in their lives, who are lonely, and who view themselves as failures because of it. Offering engineered or facilitated options during recess or lunch can literally be a lifesaver for such children. You'd be astonished how many kids WANT to come join an organized or facilitated game, and find it a welcome, refreshing option to the frustration or even loneliness they've been experiencing in the "jungle." The children who come join such options and games are not by any means all children with traditional special needs. So, while unstructured time is absolutely critical, I think having options (and perhaps the key here is "options") of adult-facilitated games or activities for students who have difficulty navigating the politics of the playground is an excellent way to support children.

  8. There are main reasons to occur an accident in playground:
    1. Slides. Falling off from the top of the slide is the most prevalent cause of injury of this equipment. 2. Swings. Even the smallest of infant swings can cause significant injury when used improperly. Children passing too closely in front of swings that are being used cause the usual accidents on outdoor swing sets.
    3. Monkey Bars. Children playing on monkey bars fall off when they climb over and fall through the bars. 4. Merry Go Round. Where the equipment spins strongly and children either jump or fall off causes injuries ranging from scrapes to head injuries and getting caught under the spinning platform.
    avoid these things to do & play safe.